Stop the protests? Unlikely. That was the sentiment at a gathering hosted by local ministers in Baltimore Sunday after six officers were charged in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
“We will continue protesting until these officers trade their blue uniforms for an orange one,” the Rev. Jamal Bryant told the multiethnic, multiracial crowd of a few hundred protesters gathered at City Hall in Baltimore.
“Tell them that ‘orange is the new black,’” he said, referring to the hit television series.
On Sunday afternoon, Bryant gathered with a coalition of preachers around the city who spoke briefly with the crowd. In a kind of de facto church service, there were prayers, sermons and gospel singing, and preachers invited the crowd to join in. Early in the morning, Bryant reportedly met with Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson to talk about goals to come out of the aftermath of the protests.
At the event, some gathered to promote unity for Baltimore, while others came to express their displeasure with the outcome of the curfew and the ensuing arrests. Then, yet another group was more focused on reminding protesters that there hasn’t been a conviction yet and there’s more work to be done.
“I came here to be a part of something greater than ourselves. When we come collectively together we find our voices stronger,” said Dominick Taylor, who was close to the podium as the preachers spoke. “We need a systematic change in the police departments, in our school system and in our economy. And we need a change in how we treat people of a lower class.”
The gathering came after an announcement that an imposed 10 p.m. curfew would officially end Sunday. The curfew was instituted after clashes with the police happened last week, ending in hundreds of arrests. Bryant publicly condemned the actions of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and President Barack Obama, questioning their commitment to disenfranchised young people in Baltimore.
“The same children you called thugs will be registered to vote in a few years,” he told the crowd to thunderous roars.
The rally Sunday was less well attended than previous rallies last week and was toned down from protests that occurred prior to charges being filed against the six police officers allegedly involved in the death of Gray.
Although the intervening days since the officers allegedly involved in Gray’s death were charged have led to a more celebratory, peaceful atmosphere, there were still arrests over the weekend. Many arrests were made Saturday night when some young people protested in response to the curfew. In Hampden, a predominantly white, working-class area of the city, a group of about 50 white protesters stood on 33rd Street and Keswick Road because, they said, they would be treated differently from protesters in black, poor areas of the city.
According to reports in the Baltimore Sun, one police officer spoke to the majority-white crowd and told them that police are “worn out” and want “things to go back to normal” like everyone else. One person shot back that the point of the protests is that people don’t want Baltimore to go back to the “normal” it once was.
Police did not arrest anyone in Hampden.
Many of the young people arrested for violating curfew and for destroying property during the riots have received exorbitant bail amounts, including one young man, Allen Bullock, who turned himself in for breaking a police window and was given a $500,000 bail. The six police officers charged in the death of Gray paid bail in amounts ranging from $250,000 to $350,000 and were released after a brief period in detention and central-booking intake.
“That signals a placement on the value of their life,” Taylor said Sunday. “It shows that we place higher value on property, a higher value on things that don’t necessarily belong to us. But once it comes to African Americans, there’s this idea that we’re not worth anything. How can someone who bashes out windows and is not a flight risk and is a kid be charged on the same level as someone who has taken a life? And double the bail of someone who took someone’s life?”
“I think this is the tipping point of a youth-led revolution and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” said Laura Green, who wore a T-shirt with an artistic rendering from artist Michael Lowen—a symbol of unity that is plastered on buildings around the city. “I’m tired of black people saying where are our current Malcolm X’s and Martin Luther Kings. These kids are our city’s future.”